Staying Focused & Flexible in 2008

The economic climate may be uncertain, the stock market may be volatile and housing may be slumping, but kitchen and
bath dealers seem surprisingly upbeat on the eve of the industry’s biggest trade show.

With the 2008 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) ready for kickoff in Chicago next month, most dealers surveyed in February by Kitchen & Bath Design News report they are generally optimistic and committed to staying the course when it comes to running their business, even in a less-than-ideal business climate (see pull-out Pre-Show Guide, NKBA Market Outook, and Dealer Survey).

At the same time, many dealers also report that they are tweaking their strategic approach in light of current business conditions, focusing more squarely on creative growth opportunities in today’s softer, highly competitive market.

This, of course, is reassuring news on two distinct fronts.

For one, it reveals the pervasive sense of optimism and confidence being expressed throughout the kitchen and bath industry, which continues to remain vibrant despite a housing sector that’s far more sluggish than during its recent record-setting past.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it reflects what has always been the soundest business philosophy of all: Don’t panic and abandon your core strategy in the face of a downturn, but rather examine and intelligently hone your approach so that your company can remain viable – and perhaps even improve – once the market cycle inevitable shifts.

Dealers tell KBDN they’re reacting to the current market in several key ways. Specifically:

  • They report that they’re rethinking their product mix and investing in their showrooms to help grow their business while continuing to focus on their core competency.
  • They report that they’re reining in overhead in order to trim the fat after a long period of growth, during which some wasteful habits may have gone unaddressed simply because business was so strong.
  • They say they are using the slower economy to their advantage by spending more time with individual clients – and thereby upselling and personalizing the projects they undertake.

And there’s more.

A common trend among dealers appears to be the “re-imagining” of their marketing efforts, with an emphasis on increasing their visibility and showroom traffic. A good number say they're planning to increase their marketing investment to ensure that business stays strong. Others say they’re looking for newer, more creative ways to market themselves.

Finally, cooperation is apparently becoming a key component of many 2008 business models, with surveyed dealers noting that mutually beneficial relationships with allied professionals will continue to be essential to performing well in the foreseeable future.

That future, most dealers report, continues to look bright. Most tell KBDN they are bullish over business prospects – and equally bullish over plans to invest in their business.

And that may be the best news of all.

Remaining focused, streamlined, flexible and investment-oriented in the current business climate is precisely the correct approach to take.

It’s reassuring to see that many dealers are apparently taking that approach while they wait for the housing market to turn and business conditions to improve.